“Due process” has different meaning in different contexts. In a criminal court of law, due process protects a citizen from unjustified incarceration. That concept doesn’t protect citizens from discipline in the workplace.
For most American employers, an employee who finds trouble away from work doesn’t create an internal issue. If it’s off the clock and off the premises, it’s not the employer’s business.
For the NFL, a decision was made years ago that failure to police the private lives of players could be bad for business. Recently, the league has learned that not properly policing the private lives of players could be even worse.
That’s the real problem the NFL now faces. Sure, the league stands against crimes ranging from domestic violence to smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own domiciles. But the recent cases of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, and 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald expose a major flaw in the NFL’s handling of players accused but not yet legally responsible for off-field wrongdoing.
Waiting for “due process” in court used to be good enough. In the NFL after the Ray Rice video, it’s not — especially where the allegations involve any kind of domestic violence or abuse.
It’s not enough for the teams to be entrusted to handle these situations, as Texans owner Bob McNair argued earlier today on CNBC’s Squawk Box, via SportsBusiness Daily. Teams have incentives and temptations that can result in bizarre and inconsistent decisions, with key players getting the benefit of “due process” and the guys at the bottom of the roster getting chased out the door.
The post-Rice NFL needs adjust to the new reality proactively. The post-Rice NFL needs to immediately mobilize a team of investigators after a player is arrested, charged, or indicted, especially in cases of domestic abuse. The post-Rice NFL needs to make its own decision as to whether the player is guilty or innocent. The post-Rice NFL needs to let the world know what it has found, and to impose fair and consistent discipline.
Could that potentially influence jurors or otherwise undermine the efforts of the legal system? Yes. But The Shield can no longer hide behind the shield of “due process.” And the challenge for the NFL will be to come up with a fair and consistent way to ensure that an appropriate system is crafted for investigating allegations against players.
The other alternative would be to act like most other American employers whose employees get in trouble away from work, and not care. Sure, the NFL would be criticized for not controlling its players. But if the NFL is going to handle these cases in a way that invites criticism anyway, it would be a lot cheaper and easier to be criticized for taking the position that anything that happens away from the place of employment isn’t the employer’s problem, unless and until the player isn’t able to play because he’s not able to be at the stadium, what with the steel bars impeding his ability to get to his car.